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Are you media literate or just media proficient?

Friday 29 January 2016, by SIGNIS

Brussels, Jakarta, January 29th, 2016 (Debora Irene Christine/The Jakarta Post/ Nation Multimedia). Following all the horrible events that happened worlwide recently (Paris, Jakarta, Ouagadougou, Bamako...), Debora Irene Christine questionned the use of social media. Do people know how to use them in the right way? Or do they simply use them without knowing their impacts. Now, more than ever, media literacy is becoming a necessity.

Simply knowing how to use Twitter or Facebook, where to access certain information, or how to paraphrase or recreate something so it appeals more to your audience does not demonstrate media literacy. Instead, it might demonstrate media proficiency. Of course, the media in question include conventional and new forms.

Nowadays, with people increasingly attracted to digital media as they become more Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-literate, media companies are investing more in the development and production of news on digital platforms. Some new media companies in fact only rely on digital platforms, distinguishing them from the rest.

With digital platforms becoming more user-friendly as they aim to share content with as many other people as possible, who publishes, shares or comments on information first is now the primary concern, as it also indicates who knows first. The accuracy of the information is then seconded.

However, positioning ourselves merely as mediators who facilitate other people’s comprehension of certain issues without the ability to analyse and critically evaluate the information we share does not necessarily contribute to democracy.

Instead of giving enlightenment and empowerment to the public, the widespread use of digital technology to share updates, pictures or videos on one particular incident often increases fear among citizens.

People then speculate on the details of the incident, without having real facts and proper information. Without even knowing the accuracy of the news provided by media companies or friends, they share it, comment on it, and create hash-tags.

We must reflect, now that almost anyone can produce and disseminate content, with fewer and different kinds of filters, upon the urgency to go beyond media proficiency. It is crucial to be media literate.

Media literacy is the aptitude to consume media by using critical thinking filters to identify misinterpretations, ranging from manipulation of advertising, including political propaganda, to discerning sensationalism from news or distortion of certain identity (race, gender, religion, or group) in media narratives.

As evaluation is crucial to media literacy, the questions are how much contextual and critical knowledge is required, and what the appropriate and legitimate grounds for criticism are, whether aesthetic, political, ideological and/or economic.

Developing critical thinking skills and understanding how the nature of media shapes our culture and society, how media organisations work in producing news and how a certain agenda influences media are steps we can take to become media literate.

In media organisations, many decisions are made between the occurrence of an event and its transmission, as news decision points are referred to as gates and decision-makers as gatekeepers. The gatekeeper, either a journalist or editor, controls the public’s knowledge of the actual events by letting some stories pass through the system but keeping others out.

Gate-keeping, then, is a social system deciding which information may be included or excluded in a news article distributed to the public. It is an inevitable process. Understanding the process might help us become more aware in recognising bias, spin or misinformation and in discovering parts of the story that are not being told.

Regularly making small deposits in your own bank of knowledge and insights by reading quality books on politics, culture, sociology and economics opens your horizons and helps you understand how powerful language is - not only in conveying messages, but also in influencing people’s way of thinking. Thus it gives you the filters you need to assess and evaluate media content.

It is also the duty of media communication scholars and practitioners to help educate and empower the public about media literacy, especially now that we are facing an era in which media organisations are much more commercially oriented, where the public is becoming much more media proficient and crises happen more often than ever before.

During times of crisis, the public is not the only party that is fragile. The government often contributes to the fragility of the public especially when it cannot explain what is happening and what will happen next.

In responding to issues during crises, do not make premature judgements and conclusions and share them through every possible kind of social networking platform. Instead, gather insights from different sources, evaluate them and open-mindedly discuss with friends and family about possible explanations. After all, anyone can irresponsibly share, retweet or voice what has been said by the media, but what is more important is voicing a responsible argument that can positively contribute to the discussion and enlighten other people.

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